Syrian refugees among eight dead as ferocious snow storm hits Lebanon

Published: 27 January 2015 15:30 CET

By Soraya Dali-Balta, IFRC

A violent snow storm ripped through Lebanon in the first week of the new year, leaving at least eight people dead and putting the lives of thousands of vulnerable Syrian refugees at risk.

The Lebanese Red Cross said it had recovered three bodies in the border town of Shebaa, including a six-year-old child, who died in the extremely low temperatures. Two of these victims have been identified as Syrian refugees. And a two-year old child from the Lebanese town of Bebnine was also pronounced dead after freezing overnight in the cold weather. Meanwhile, a Palestinian refugee was found dead inside his tent by Lebanese Red Cross teams in the Bekaa.

On the outskirts of the Bekaa city of Baalbeck, a Syrian mother of three froze to death inside the house she shared with her displaced family.

Storm ‘Zina’ showered Lebanon with heavy rain, covered areas as low as 700 meters above sea level with snow and led to a power outage in many cities. Schools were closed and citizens were urged to refrain from taking certain mountainous roads to avoid traffic accidents. The snow also cut off roads across the country particularly in northern and eastern Lebanon, leaving several towns disconnected from their surroundings. Coastal cities were also affected by Zina, as waves up to three meters in height covered streets at the seafront, hail fell, and the temperature dropped below six degrees celsius.

While the strong winds and heavy downpours were felt in all cities and towns in Lebanon, Zina was particularly painful for thousands of Syrian refugees who live in ill-equipped tented settlements, exposed to the threats and dangers of these extreme winter conditions. At least four refugee children were rushed to hospitals in the Bekaa region during the storm with hypothermia. Meanwhile, several refugee families resorted to burning clothes and rags to heat their shelters.

The Lebanese Red Cross had announced in the days leading up to the storm some precautionary measures citizens and refugees were advised to take to shield themselves from the dangerous weather, and which included avoiding driving in mountain areas, following the news on road conditions, preparing heating tools and saving food provisions in case the storm lasted for several days.

As the first powerful winds swept through the country, the National Society activated a nationwide alert and mobilised more than 100 ambulances, 400 volunteers, and several specialised teams to respond to rising needs and emergency calls as a result of the storm.

In the aftermath of the storm, the Lebanese Red Cross transported 1,919 urgent cases, including 26 cardiopulmonary resuscitation cases and 55 people with heart disease, and was present at the scene of 64 roads accidents.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Red Cross volunteers provided basic relief items and winter kits to Syrian refugees spread across the country.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which has been closely following up on the situation in the country and on the efforts of the Lebanese Red Cross, has allocated more than CHF 140,000 from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to support the rescue and relief efforts of the National Society. The IFRC launched a CHF 18.6 million emergency appeal in October 2014 to support the Lebanese Red Cross response to the needs of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon during the winter season.